Thursday 24 April 2008

Leap of Faith - A Film Criticism

Title: Leap Of Faith
Year: 1992

Director: Richard Pearce

Writer: Janus Cercone

Studio: Paramount Pictures

Film Stock:
Color (DeLuxe)

Run Time: 108 min.

When this film came out in 1992 I was heavily involved with the campus ministry Campus Crusade for Christ (CCC) at Queen's University. The campus directors and all the Christian leaders I knew at the time, warned 'good Christians' not to see the film. As a good little soldier I obeyed for about a year. When I finally saw the film I thought it was great. Though it was done in the genre of a comedy, I would argue that the story becomes drama with the miracles that happen during the telling of the story. Many Christians avoided this film, which could have been a great tool for dialogue and reflection upon faith, hope, and doubt. I believe that it is a tragedy that so many Christians avoided this film. Therefore I will argue that this film is a comedy/drama that Christians should have watched, that it is a great story, and though often interpreted as against Christianity and against faith, I would say it shows real faith.

When the film came out there was a very strong negative reaction to it within the Christian Community. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops rated this film A-III for adults only. The review on the USCCB website states: "Director Richard Pearce's serio-comedy of religious hucksterism has few laughs and little meaning, made all the more unsatisfactory by a vague, feel-good ending. Comic depiction of religious sentiment exploited for profit and an implied sexual encounter." The Roman Catholic Church strongly recommended that the faithful not watch the movie. My own
mentor through CCC asked us to pass out flyers asking people to boycott the film. Even the New York Times writer Janet Maslin states: "Well acted and amusingly told, featuring a fine performance by Steve Martin in the central role, this tale ultimately switches gears and takes a deeply serious turn. 'If I get the job done, what difference does it make?' Mr. Martin's Rev. Jonas Nightengale, a bogus faith healer, asks twice during the story. The second answer he receives sums up the film's fundamental message: 'It makes all the difference in the world.'" The screen shot is of a third time this statement is used, this time by Boyd after he has been healed and is asking Jonas to travel with him. Boyd thinks it does not matter if miracles are happening. He wants to join Jonas's entourage and go on the road.

The religious elements in this film are obvious and blatant - both the faith of the religious who
want to believe and hope for miracles, and also the faith Jonas has that everybody is a sucker. Yet as Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat in their review of Leap of Faith declare: "The point of Leap of Faith is well worth pondering - miracles cannot be summoned by command; they happen spontaneously, by grace, and often to those who least expect them." The film raises a number of serious religious questions. Those questions are: first, did a miracle happen and was Boyd actually healed by God? The second is: did Jane Larson experience conversion from cynic and part of the team of conmen? And finally, was Jonas Nightengale's leaving a sign of his conversion and contrition? Each of these questions possible 'miracles' and raise questions that are worth further discussion - however not in the scope of this paper.

Because of the turn of events from comedy to drama, this film has many redeeming qualities. Many Christians may have avoided this film, and some may have also persuaded others not to attend, myself included. Yet in doing so, they missed out on an opportunity to dialogue and to discuss both the scams presented by Jonas and the possible miracles that occurred during the film.



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(First Written for RS266 Religion in Popular Film Fall 2007.)

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